United States v. Press Publishing Company
On March 4 1909, upon the assumed authority of the 2d section of an act of Congress approved July 7, 1898 (chap. 576, 30 Stat. at L. 717, U.S.C.omp. Stat. 1901, p. 3652), a grand jury in the circuit court of the United States for the southern district of New York found a true bill against the Press Publishing Company, charging the commission of alleged criminal libels, set out in an indictment composed of fourteen counts. The asserted libels were contained in six issues of the World, a newspaper printed in the city of New York, of which newspaper the defendant in error, a New York corporation, was publisher. The first seven counts dealt with the publication of the libels by circulating copies of the newspaper containing the same within the reservation and military post in Orange county, New York, known as West Point. The remaining counts dealt with the publication of each of the libels by the delivery of a copy of the issue of the World containing the same to a postoffice inspector at his office in the Postoffice building in the city of New York. Both West Point and the Postoffice building were averred to be places within the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States. Those who were alleged in each count to have been criminally libeled were, at the time of the publications, the President of the United States, the Secretary of War, and certain private individuals. The alleged libelous articles related to the purchase by the United States of the Panama canal. We need not state the contents of the articles, since, in the view taken of the case, we shall be only called upon to determine whether, conceding the publications to have been libelous as charged in the indictment, they constituted offenses against the United States within the purview of the act of 1898.
The case went to trial upon a plea of not guilty. The circulation of the newspapers containing the alleged libels on the military reservation, and their delivery to the inspector at the postoffice, as charged in the indictment, was admitted by the defendant. The government, on the other hand, admitted that all of the issues of the World newspaper referred to in the indictment were printed in the defendant's printing establishment in the city of New York, and were circulated therefrom.
At the close of the evidence introduced by the government, the defendant moved to quash the indictment or to instruct a verdict of acquittal, upon the following grounds:
'First. That court has no jurisdiction in this case, because there is no statute of the United States authorizing the prosecution.
'Second. The act of 1898 does not apply to the case as disclosed by the evidence.
'Third. If construed so as to cover the acts shown by the evidence, the act is unconstitutional.
'Fourth. The offense, if any, was committed wholly within the jurisdiction of the state of New York, and was punishable there.
'Fifth. The defendant, being a corporation, is incapable of committing the offense charged in the indictment.'
The court announced, that it had concluded that the indictment was not authorized by the act of 1898, and therefore the motion to quash would be sustained. Before, however, any formal entry to that effect was made, in order to obviate any question of double jeopardy, upon motion of the attorney for the United States a juror was withdrawn, and thereafter a judgment was duly entered quashing the indictment, it being expressly recited in the judgment that it was based upon a construction of the statute. To review the action of the trial court, this writ of error is prosecuted by the United States, under the authority of the act of March 2, 1907 (34 Stat. at L. 1246, chap. 2564, U.S.C.omp. Stat. Supp. 1909, p. 220).
Messrs. J. C. McReynolds, Stuart McNamara, and Attorney General Wickersham for plaintiff in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 4-6 intentionally omitted]
Messrs. De Lancey Nicoll, John D. Lindsay, and Raymond D. Thurber for defendant in error.
Statement by Mr. Chief Justice White:
[Argument of Counsel from pages 6-8 intentionally omitted]
Mr. Chief Justice White, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court: